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Disney, A Few Wolf Facts to Gnaw On

To: Disney Executives and Emma Watson
From: Martha Hunt Handler, Board President, Wolf Conservation Center
Re: Beauty and the Beast

One would hope that a company such as Disney, with a $175 billion market cap, and world-renowned star, such as you, Emma Watson, would ensure that the movies you produce, distribute and sign-on to are not riddled with unnecessary and false depictions of characters explicitly intended to strike fear in humans. I’m speaking specifically of your gross and unfair portrayal of wolves in your 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast was a fairytale originally published in 1740 in which no mention of wolves was made. At some later date, wolves were added, though no one is sure exactly when or why. And while I understand and appreciate that for fairytales to work there must be good (Beauty) vs. evil (the Beast and the Witch) elements, adding wolves in the evil role, was not only unfair, but a poor and misinformed choice.

The truth is, that for thousands of years’ wolves have been depicted in literature [most notably the bible (Genesis 1:26-29), Grimm’s fairytales, and Aesop’s fables] as being associated with the devil, werewolves and even vampires. None of which could be further from the truth.

Here are just a few wolf facts for you to gnaw on:

  • Wolves are apex predators that occupy a top niche in the natural food chain and they play a prominent role in any ecosystem they inhabit. When wolves are removed, the ecosystem very noticeably declines
  • Wolves primarily prey on weak, diseased, sick and elderly ungulates (elk, bison, etc.) and thus create stronger populations of these animals.
  • Livestock loss due to wolves is less than 1% of total livestock loss and recent studies have shown that killing wolves actually leads to more livestock deaths because wolf killings disrupt the social cohesion of the pack.
  • Our fear of wolves is believed to have begun when humans started to distance themselves from nature, to enslave and exploit it – when we invented agriculture. Before Europeans came to the US, hundreds of thousands of wolves were the dominant predator in every state but Hawaii, keeping other populations under control. After the settler’s arrival, wolves were eradicated to the point of near extinction and today we are home to an estimated population of 10,000+.
  • Wolves are naturally fearful of and timid around humans. In the United States in the last hundred years there has been no documented human death attributed to a wild wolf.
  • Wolves don’t kill for sport.
  • Domestic dogs are genetically 98% grey wolves.

As the Board President of the Wolf Conservation Center, a not-for-profit environmental education organization, I’ve worked tirelessly for many years to promote wolf conservation by teaching about wolves, their relationship to the environment, and the human role in protecting their future. In addition, we participate in the Species Survival Plan and the Recovery plan for two critically endangered wolf species, the Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf, which are among the rarest mammals in North America.

All I ask of you, Disney, is to do your homework before you make your movies and always consider the consequences of your actions. You are informing young minds with your content and, therefore, I believe, you have a responsibility to your audience to inform rather than misinform.

Martha Hunt Handler
Board President, Wolf Conservation Center